Less Democracy–More Women Leaders?

July 15th, 2014

The General Synod of the Church of England , after years of debate and failed motions, yesterday passed the final resolution that will allow for the appointment of women bishops. There was cheering and considerable relief, as conservative Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals voted for legislation that they felt would preserve their freedom to remain separate from the female episcopacy.

Note that I said, “appointment.” In the Church of England, bishops, cathedral deans and canons, and archdeacons are chosen by other bishops or the Prime Minister. There is nothing like the diocesan election system in place in the U.S.

Interestingly, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was recently in England, and she was asked about the coming Synod vote. She ventured the opinion that women leadership might advance more rapidly than it has in this country because women could be chosen by a few hierarchs, rather than by various large conventions.

Does this mean that ordinary laypeople and priests are anti-feminist and reactionary? I would hope not. In any case, the next few years in England will certainly be years of change. –J. Douglas Ousley

So Help Us God

July 9th, 2014

To no fanfare and precious little interest even among careful observers of national church politics, the Joint Nominating Committee has presented its first “essay” regarding the upcoming election of a new Presiding Bishop.  

The essay doesn’t say much except present a timeline for the nominating process. The real issues will be in the descriptions of the qualities of the ideal PB–and even these could probably be written today: “loves God, strives for peace and justice, nurtures diversity, strong leader” etc.

The only underground gossip seems to surround whether the current Presiding Bishop might seek an unprecedented second nine-year term, as apparently she will be just young enough to do. If she says definitively that she will not run, then expect candidates to come out of the woodwork. If she does run, then there will be lots of interest, because even her biggest supporters are disappointed in the decline of the church in the past eight years of her leadership. –J. Douglas Ousley

In the Heart of Texas

May 28th, 2014

While in Dallas on a recent visit, I attended a Kiwanis Club meeting with my father-in-law. The small group was mostly elderly and included a number of veterans of various wars, including World War II, which was the subject of the meeting. 

The chairman gave a review of a book about the last year of the battle against Hitler, detailing all the deaths from aerial combat, ground warfare, disease, bombing, and so on. At the end of the report, the chairman offered a personal remark, which I found extraordinary–given the location and the audience. 

He said, “If I could vote President Obama out of office tomorrow, I would. But I thank God that he has kept us out of any more wars.” –J. Douglas Ousley

No News Is…

May 6th, 2014

An unearthly quiet seems to have descended upon the Episcopal Church. Other than the recent divorce of Bishop Gene Robinson from his husband, there has been no real news. A group is working on a new vision for the Church, but the average layperson’s interest in that seems negligible. Any candidates in the campaign for Presiding Bishop–to be elected in summer, 2015–are apparently awaiting the announcement by the incumbent of whether she will run again. Bishop Jefferts-Schori is the first PB ever to be eligible for a second term; few bishops or others seem to want that, however, given the decline of the church during her time in office.

What’s next? Maybe this quiet period in Episcopal Church history will allow for growth at the parish level. In any event, it’s hard to see that some time out of the glare of negative media coverage will hurt the church. –J. Douglas Ousley

I Met a Saint

May 1st, 2014

During the 1980′s, when I was serving the Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within-the-Walls in Rome, I had several occasions to meet Pope John Paul II. At that time, what few Italian Protestants there were declined to meet with the Bishop of Rome, so whenever the Vatican wanted to have an ecumenical service, foreign Protestant clergy would be invited. I must say that I found the Pope even more charismatic than his reputation attested. He was one of the most attractive and engaging people I have ever met.

Now that he has been canonized, I realize that I can claim to have met a saint–a claim that would have been rare in most of Christian history. Normally, the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church takes many years, and those who knew the saint personally are long gone by the time he or she is officially pronounced a holy example for the Church. 

This rapid canonization may be a sign of things to come. Our speed-obsessed age may be impatient with the old process. As people cried out in St. Peter’s Square after John Paul died, “Santo subito!” “Make him an official saint instantly!” 

Whether or not this is a good idea–whether we will end up with hastily-chosen saints that later generations will regret–there’s no question that the Church and the world needs examples of extraordinary holiness.–J. Douglas Ousley

Holy Week in the Secular City

April 18th, 2014

A generation ago, New York City offices closed at noon on Good Friday. The workers poured out of their buildings and into the churches for the start of the traditional three hour preaching services.

Today, Good Friday is either a holiday–in which case, the workers aren’t in the city at all, or it is a work day, so that the workers don’t have time to attend a long service. At Incarnation last Sunday, a Persian Day Parade on Madison Avenue interrupted our main Palm Sunday service. This Easter Sunday, a major playoff game is scheduled to take place at nearby Madison Square Garden.

Much has been written about the secularization of Western society. While the above examples show how the broad trend against religion affects Christians on the ground, some of these comments are off the mark. Christianity is actually growing in Manhattan, for example, as many small evangelical congregations are forming.

Which prompts the hopeful thought that as Christianity becomes more and more counter-cultural and underground, it may re-capture the spiritual confidence of the early Christians. In the meantime, a Happy Easter to all. –J. Douglas Ousley

A Flood of Controversy

March 31st, 2014

In a delayed reaction to the amazing success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood is producing its own politically-corrected Bible movies. While Noah in the eponymous recent film remains firmly patriarchal (he is played by Russell Crowe, after all), he is determined to abort his own grandchildren so that the human race will no longer pollute the earth. The movie features unintentionally hilarious animated rocks called, “Watchers,” who are supposedly keeping tabs on the fallen human race.

Noah refers to the Biblical deity only as the Creator, but as you can imagine, some people of faith have been upset by the extravagant liberties taken with the sacred text.While people of faith should  be as uncomfortable in the presence of this aesthetic mess as Crowe seems to be in acting in it, they may be confident that the faith of our fathers and mothers will remain unscathed. –J. Douglas Ousley


Ashes to Go, Cheap Grace?

March 3rd, 2014

An email yesterday from the director of communications of the Diocese of New York asked if we were having “ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday. I replied that ashes were administered in the church throughout the day, from 8 am to 7 pm.

I recognize that this is stretching the rules; the Book of Common Prayer only allows ashes to be given within the context of the special liturgy for Ash Wednesday. Indeed, our local Roman Catholic Church has posted a sign that ashes will only be distributed during the three masses of the day “following church law.”

Even so, the idea of “ashes to go” is troubling. Ashes are a sign of penitence and mortality–surely not subjects to be linked with drive-through lines for coffee and hamburgers. Surely, anyone seeking to remember that he or she “is dust and to dust [he or she] shall return” can take a minute to enter the church to receive the ashes. They might even have another minute to pray before and after that event.

Going out on the sidewalk and randomly dabbing passers-by with ashes is the latest attempt by Episcopal churches to attract attention and members. I wonder if it is a step in the right direction.   –J. Douglas Ousley

Indaba Encore

February 3rd, 2014

Some of you may have seen this comment on a previous post. It comes from Incarnation’s former  Junior Warden, Mark Lulka:

>>”Indaba” is not a great word.  When I first heard it, I immediately thought of “intifada”, and had to check the spelling and definition.  The Episcopal Church should steer clear of trends and the use of language that can be misconstrued.<<

In my recent trip to the UK (of which more soon), I noticed that while the Diocese of New York delegation often used the term, the concept of “indaba” seemed pretty foreign to Church of England clergy. Maybe the word has already outlived whatever usefulness it once had. –J. Douglas Ousley

How Episcopal is Our Church?

January 8th, 2014

Tomorrow, I will be traveling to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to meet with the Bishop of New York. We will be making final plans for Bishop Dietsche’s official visit to our link Diocese of London later in the month.

This will be the first time I have entered the office of a New York bishop since I was ordained to the priesthood in 1973. I note this not to express disappointment at not being favored with the attention of my superiors all these years. Rather, it has struck me that, given the time and effort our church puts into electing and supporting bishops, they should somehow be more crucial in day-to-day parish life. Unless the bishops need money or the parish has problems, hierarchy and parish function on separate levels that barely touch.

The word, “Episcopal” in our title means, “having bishops.” We do indeed possess bishops, but the extent to which their presence defines us seems to me to be exaggerated. –J. Douglas Ousley